Michele Kang, owner of Washington Spirit, OL Groupe and Eagle Football Holdings announced on Tuesday an agreement to form a global organization for women’s football, which will include both the Spirit and Olympique Lyonnais Féminin. Here’s what you need to know:
- Kang will be the majority owner of the new entity and will also serve as its CEO. Under Kang’s leadership, the group intends to expand to include several women’s soccer clubs around the world.
- Kang will own 52% of the new group. During this time, OL will hold 48% of the organization via OL Association (an independent public association consolidated by OL Groupe) with 12% and OL Groupe with 36% in exchange for contributions from a 50-year license of the brand. OL will have no voting rights and the remaining shares will be offered for public sale by Eagle Football Holdings Bidco.
- The move is just the latest in Kang’s efforts to increase her investment in women’s soccer, following her takeover of the Spirit for $35 million last year.
- OL Groupe, which also oversees the men’s team in Lyon, will combine OL Féminin with Kang’s majority stake in the Spirit to form the new organization.
What they say
This announcement follows the takeover of Olympique Lyonnais by American businessman John Textor in December, adding OL Groupe to its investments in football under its Eagle Football holding company. Textor also owns a stake in Crystal Palace, along with other European men’s clubs. Last month, OL Groupe confirmed its intention to sell its NWSL franchise, OL Reign, and has already received interest.
While Kang intends to acquire more women’s soccer clubs as part of the overall organization – she is looking in Europe, Central and South America and Asia – the two clubs she starts with will retain their identities. individual established. Kang plans to invest in both teams’ local and centralized infrastructure, citing plans for shared resources, particularly in performance science, staff development and scouting.
“This agreement represents a major step forward in the history of professional women’s football,” Kang said in the press release on Tuesday. “It brings together the unrivaled tradition of eight-time Champions League winners OL Féminin and the dynamism of the NWSL Champion Spirit 2021 to usher our sport into a new era.
“It is a great honor to take charge of OL Féminin and lead this unprecedented effort on behalf of the fans, players and staff of both teams.”
Kang’s entry into women’s football began with the Spirit. She made her initial investment in the club in December 2020 through then-majority owner Steve Baldwin. After a contentious battle for control of the team with Baldwin, the NWSL approved her as majority owner of the club in March 2022. The Spirit struggled on the pitch last year, but Kang has gradually strengthened front office and technical staff. She hired Mark Krikorian (former Florida State coach) as general manager and president of football operations, along with Mark Parsons as coach and Dawn Scott to lead a new performance, medical and health department. ‘innovation.
Textor bought Lyon in December 2022, adding the club to its other football investments through Eagle Football Holdings (which also includes Belgian club RWD Molenbeek and Brazilian club Botafogo, and a 40% stake in Premier League’s Crystal Palace FC). League). In February, Kang also acquired a minority stake in Eagle Football Holdings.
While in April OL denied an article by French newspaper L’Equipe suggesting that Kang would buy the Lyon-based women’s team, he confirmed that OL Groupe’s stake in OL Reign in the NWSL was up for sale. .
“OL Groupe announces that it has given a mandate to sell its NWSL franchise to Raine Group’s investment bank,” the statement said. The Raine Group previously served as lead financial advisor for the sale of Lyon to Eagle Football.
“Olympique Lyonnais is happy and proud to have been able to build the new foundations of OL Reign, to have contributed to its sporting success (winning shield and semi-finalist of the NWSL 2022), but also to have repatriated the team in Seattle with their fans. and community, as OL Groupe committed to when it was acquired in 2019.”
Kang confirmed Athleticism that the sale of the NWSL franchise by OL Groupe was already under discussion before its conversations with Textor and Eagle Football around this agreement, and not because of its potential conflict of interest. “It was not my request to do this deal, (they) have to sell,” she said. “It was already considered.”
Textor became chairman of the board of directors earlier this month for OL Groupe, and was named interim CEO, ending Jean-Michel Aulas’s management tenure with OL (Aulus was named honorary chairman during of the same meeting). A week ago, Textor asked about the ‘restructuring’ of the club’s women’s side at a press conference, saying it had been approved after two board votes, including by Aulas.
Last weekend, Kang watched as Lyon won the Women’s French Cup final, a 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain. Team captain Wendie Renard dedicated the win to Aulas and wrote in French, “This title is for you President Aulas, and the first with new management Michele Kang and John Textor.”
With the official announcement of the deal, Kang also joins OL Groupe’s board of directors.
What this means for Lyon
As part of the new organization, OL Groupe has undertaken to support Lyon by using existing facilities via the Groupama Stadium, the Groupama OL Training Center and the OL Academy.
The logistics of the separation of OL Féminin from the men’s team do not seem to have been definitively settled.
“There’s a lot involved because you’re talking about shared services, a club that has operated in a way for so long on the men’s and women’s side with so many shared services, not just facilities but people. and doctors. “, said Textor during his press conference. “There’s a lot of work to do on that.”
Kang confirmed that these conversations continue in his interview with Athleticismand should continue until the conclusion of the agreement.
“Because Lyon are part of a bigger organization, it takes some effort to figure out which part we need to continue to get support from OL Groupe,” she said.
For her, expectations for Lyon’s continued excellence in France and the Champions League remain unchanged.
What this means for Spirit
In the immediate short term, the theory is that not much will change dramatically. The Spirit, with Lyon, will keep their identity. Plans were already underway to revamp Spirit’s branding, which complements its aspirations to carve out a place for itself in a new global organization.
Kang noted in his interview with Athleticism that the Spirit are seven weeks into the 2023 season as the only undefeated team still standing.
“Right now, our focus is going to be: every team (does) their best, especially the Spirit,” Kang said. “I don’t want them to be distracted.”
There will be opportunities, long term, for the Spirit to be part of Kang’s overall plans for a centralized infrastructure around performance and development, but that’s not a project for this summer.
Kang also reaffirmed his commitment to building a dedicated Spirit training facility, having previously stated the extent of his ambitions on that front earlier this season.
“We’re talking about 70 (to) 90 acres of land and building not just the best land, but the training center with the cutting edge technology, data, adjacent market, all performance related technology, all housed together “, she said. “We will build it.
What this means for OL Reign
With Portland Thorns FC and the Chicago Red Stars already set to take ownership of the NWSL – alongside ongoing expansion plans – adding a third team for sale unexpectedly probably wasn’t on the cards. the NWSL to-do list.
“We are aware of OL Group’s interest in exploring the sale of OL Reign and we will continue to work closely with them to ensure that any potential owner is aligned with our league’s vision and values,” a league spokesperson said in a statement. April 12.
When OL Groupe bought its majority stake in Reign in 2019, it cost just $3.51 million for 89.5% of the club. That number seems odd now, given the price tag of the Bay Area expansion fee ($53 million) and what a sale of the Portland powerhouse might yield given its pedigree and profitability.
With Raine Group leading the sale process, Textor is likely expecting a decent return on the original purchase price before its time. According to L’Equipe, he is expecting 50 million euros ($54 million) for the reign.
For the team, after a move to Tacoma, then a return to Seattle and a move to Lumen Field, there is more uncertainty about what the next step for the club might look like. If the right local buyer comes along, however, there is huge potential waiting to be unlocked. The Reign has the players and the right stadium. They were just waiting for the right owner with ambition. Under their own control, the Reign could and should be a major player in the NWSL.
And if nothing else, there’s a chance the original Reign badge — one of the NWSL’s all-time greats — could return. While the lion eating a Pringle will be missed in its own way, the reign has a chance to return to its roots.
What happens next?
Tuesday’s announcement marks the signing and creation of the new organization under Kang’s ownership and control, but the deal is not yet truly done. It awaits approval from the NWSL Board of Governors.
“We expect (the closing date) to be around June 30, but it really depends on the NWSL approval process, because of OL Reign,” Kang said. “I think for all intents and purposes we’re going to start having more strategic conversations this fall.”
The sales process has begun. In the meantime, for Kang, already majority owner of an NWSL team, “there is going to be a clear firewall,” she said.
“I will have nothing to do with OL Reign,” Kang said. “As part of our group, if there is a conversation about OL Reign, I will recuse myself.”
Merritt Paulson announced that he plans to sell the Thorns on December 1, 2022 and Arnim Whisler announced the sale of the Red Stars on December 5, 2022. Both teams are still awaiting new owners from May 16. Selling OL Reign is considerably less complicated than either of those deals, but a potential buyer and the NWSL still need to do their due diligence.
When it comes to Kang’s massive plan to create a global women’s football organization, there’s a lot on her to-do list, but she has repeatedly expressed her excitement for the Spirit’s potential clash with Lyon – qu she wants to see in DC and in France. As for the next few months, she is waiting for the conclusion of the agreement and taking care of the immediate logistical problems.
(Photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty)